I’ll start with some brief book recommendations, and end with a woeful tale that ends happily.
Despite the disruption of home repairs, I’ve managed to finish several books since the end of April, and May is only half-done. A suggestion from Mallika at Literary Potpourri led me to Ann Scott-Moncrieff’s Auntie Dobbo, a sprightly adventure set in Scotland, well worth locating on Project Gutenberg. I’m also making my way through Ursula K Le Guin’s Hainish series, as per Calmgrove’s year-long program for a #LoveHain #UKLGsf project: The Left Hand of Darkness finished, The Word for World is Forest begun.
Two highlights of this month’s reading:
1. Alberto Manguel, The Library at Night (2008), an appreciation of libraries, from ancient to modern, from public to private, from esoteric to all-inclusive. Manguel, co-author of The Dictionary of Imaginary Places, invites us into his own extensive library and leaps from that point to the idea of libraries as attempts to define, understand, and impose order on the world. At one point, he points out that no library can hold all knowledge of the entire world — unless that library is the world itself. Philosophy, politics, history, literary theory are all here, with much for a reader to ponder.
2. Paul Scott, Staying On (1977; Booker Prize winner, 1977), a sequel to his massive Raj Quartet. Complex and satisfying in so many ways, the story reveals life for one British couple who remained in India after the end of the Raj. It’s the history of their marriage, more specifically of the wife, Lucy Smalley, who narrates her biography in imaginary conversations with others. The details that Scott includes are almost alarming in their ability to call up exact sensations. Here’s one example: Lucy, “heard the short bursts of the [hairspray] aerosol; smelt the heavy scent, felt the frosty little zephyr-breaths on her head.” A perfect description: I, too, have felt the “frosty zephyr-breaths” of hairspray.
If you don’t have the energy for Scott’s Raj Quartet, then read this novel instead.
A third book suggestion I’ll keep under wraps for now — perhaps it’ll pop up again as part of Witch Week 2023. It’s a doozy, and I can barely control my excitement about it. One way or another, you’ll hear of it soon.
And now for that woeful tale*. Late winter of 2021, I started a 2000-piece jigsaw puzzle (Breughel’s Children’s Games), and by mid-May, I’d completed perhaps a quarter of it. It was laid out on my dining room table, usually a great location, for the table is out of the way and large enough to hold a puzzle-in-progress. Then came the news from my landlord that major roof repairs were about to begin, requiring occasional access to my apartment and much disruption in several rooms, including the dining room. I carefully packed away the puzzle, trying to keep the finished sections intact so that I wouldn’t have to start from nothing when I had a chance to finish it. I shifted the table and other furniture, rolled up the rug, rearranged most of the other rooms in my apartment, and waited for the next stage.
It was a long wait. As is normal with construction, nothing began for a few months, and the initial plan that required me to empty my kitchen cupboards and clear the long eastern wall of my apartment (along 5 rooms) got revised to include only my dining room, where one floor-to-ceiling I-beam would live for a while. Every other room I could put back as they were.
However, places where the workmen had broken through the outer walls couldn’t be fully repaired until all the roof work was done and we’d had a few rains, to be sure there were no more leaks. So, in my kitchen and pantry, I lived with these for over a year:
By November, I was able to pull out that unfinished Breughel puzzle and work on it, using the dining room table and keeping clear of the I-beam.
I completed the puzzle in early January 2022. Although “completing” is not the right word. Three pieces were missing. After a thorough search, I had found just one. And then I thought of that rug, still rolled up and in my daughter’s bedroom. My only hope was that the other two pieces were there, tucked safely away, but I wouldn’t know until I could unroll the rug.
Work on the roof progressed, and, in April 2022, with one critical section completed, the workmen came to move the I-beam from my dining room to my office, where it remained until October. Even with it gone — in time for the Christmas holidays — I couldn’t start the interior repairs until the roofers gave the ok. That came in February of this year.
Finally, I could arrange the major plastering and painting needed in five rooms, with all the disarrangement and furniture shifting that process would require. My landlord paid for an excellent plasterer; I paid for a painter. I could handle two rooms per month, so we needed March, April, and May. The painter finished a week ago.
Today, almost exactly two years after this whole thing began, I finally unrolled the rug, and there, as I had hoped, were the missing puzzle pieces. (Along with a button I’d only recently noticed was gone — that’s the funny bit. If I’d lost the button two years ago, why did it take me this long to discover the button was missing? If it’s the one I lost a few days ago, how the hello did it get into the rolled up carpet? Or, just possibly, there are two buttons, the one I found, and another still lost?)
I knock on wood, even now, as I write this, but two years’ work and disruption have led to a cessation of leaks whenever it rains. For that, and for neighbors who helped me move some large pieces of furniture, I’m grateful. And, bonus!, I found those missing pieces!
Perhaps I’ll post photos of my happy rooms, once I’ve rehung all my artwork. Meanwhile, I just walk around admiring my lovely walls and enjoying the satisfaction of everything being in its proper place, including those puzzle pieces. Anyone who works jigsaw puzzles will know that feeling.
*By “woeful”, I’m being melodramatic. I recognize that my problems are all “first-world problems” and that I’m incredibly lucky. But it’s human nature to complain, and I’m only human. Besides, I find this story funny.
First off, commiserations on the long time it’s taken to get the repairs done – the photos almost suggest the temporary fixes were in danger of becoming permanent fixtures – but it must be a relief to feel after two years that you’ll again be snug and safe in your apartment. And of course that the Breughel is complete…
I love my copy of The Dictionary of Imaginary Places so the Manguel sounds right up my street, especially as I’ve read one or two other complimentary reviews in the last few months. I would never read the Raj Quartet – too much of a commitment – but Staying On would tempt me, especially if I was to wonder how things would’ve turned out if my parents hadn’t left before Partition and Independence: would I have been born and would I be the same person I am now? I somehow doubt it.
Anyway, First World problems: problems are problems, especially if they lead to anxiety due to a sense of impotence in the given situation, so yes, ‘woeful’ is a good word. Woe, woe, and thrice work as the prophetess Cassandra might have said … 😁
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thanks for your sympathy, Chris. Apartment life is always exciting!
Side note: I very nearly vacuumed up the puzzle pieces, because they were too well-camouflaged against the rug’s pattern. Thankfully, a thorough vacuuming required hands-and-knees work, and I spotted them just in time. (In case you’re wondering, I would definitely have torn the paper vacuum bag apart to find them if that had happened.)
I know you’ll enjoy the Manguel, and I suspect you’ll feel the same about Staying On. I shall have to look for the Trevor Howard/Celia Johnson BBC version from 1980.
LikeLiked by 1 person
I’d love to see pictures of your walls! And I’m glad you found the pieces, those little things can be quite maddening
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thanks, Lory. Art works are going up today and tomorrow, so I’ll post photos soon.
Pingback: A few book recommendations and … | Mon site officiel / My official website